The A's are not expected to bring back closer Grant Balfour, and will need to shore up their bullpen in the late-inning relief department for the 2014 season.
The experts at HardBallTalk.com have complied their list of the Top 150 free agents. Here are the options for late inning relief:
18. Joe Nathan (RHP Rangers – Age 39): Even though his velocity isn’t quite what it used to be, Nathan was as effective as ever last season, allowing just two homers in 64 2/3 innings and converting 43 of his 46 save chances. He’s expected to decline his $9.5 million option for 2014 and seek another multiyear deal. Even at 39, he figures to get one. The Rangers will likely make an attempt to re-sign him, even though they have alternatives in the closer’s role. It’ll probably take about $24 million for two years.
23. Brian Wilson (RHP Dodgers – Age 32): Even though his velocity wasn’t all the way back, Wilson was quite the force in a setup role after completing his Tommy John rehab and signing with the Dodgers. In the postseason, he pitched six scoreless innings, striking out eight and allowing four hits. That success should ensure that he’ll have his pick of closer gigs this winter, with at least a two-year, $20 million deal in the offing. The Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Angels and Mariners could be among his suitors. The Yankees would make sense, too, but their policy on facial hair could be quite the deterrent in this case.
28. Grant Balfour (RHP Athletics – Age 36): Balfour doubled his career save total last season, but that’s just saves; 2013 was his fourth straight campaign with an ERA in the mid-2.00s. After struggling to stay healthy throughout his 20s, he’s pitched 55 innings six straight seasons since turning 30, topping 60 the last three years. He’s still rather risky on a multiyear deal, but he’s set to get the biggest contract of his career. $24 million for three years or $18 million for two could work.
35. Joaquin Benoit (RHP Tigers – Age 36): Thrust into the closer’s role, Benoit converted his first 22 save chances last season before blowing two during the final week of the season. He also took one huge blown save in the postseason when he gave up David Ortiz‘s grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS. It was just the sixth homer he allowed in 2013 after he gave up 15 between the regular season and postseason in 2012. Benoit will probably be viewed more as an elite setup man than as a closer this winter. Still, after four strong years in a row, he shouldn’t have any trouble landing at least a two-year deal.
36. Fernando Rodney (RHP Rays – Age 37): Obviously, Rodney’s 2013 stats don’t compare to the 2012 season that saw him set a major league ERA record (0.60 in 74 2/3 IP) and go 48-for-50 saving games. However, his stuff was as good as ever at age 36; he often hit 98-99 mph on the gun and he finished with a career-best strikeout rate. He’ll almost surely move on from the Rays and take over as a different team’s closer next year. Given his inconsistency, he might have a tougher time getting a mulityear deal than Nathan and Balfour.
42. Joe Smith (RHP Indians – Age 30): Smith’s next contract will surprise a lot of people, but this is a rock-solid reliever. His career ERA is 2.97, and he’s come under that each of the last three years, even though he’s been allowed to face more left-handed hitters (he was more of a righty specialist in his first few years). Plus, he’s only 30 and he has no history of arm injuries. He seems like a shoo-in for a three-year deal, though whether it’s for $15 million or something closer to $20 million will depend on the bidders.
47. Jesse Crain (RHP Rays – Age 32): For nearly three months last season, Crain was the AL’s best reliever, amassing a 0.53 ERA and 18 holds in his first 35 appearances while setting up for Addison Reed. Shoulder problems did him in after that, and while it seemed his return was always right around the corner — the Rays even traded for him in the hopes that he’d contribute down the stretch — he never did make it back. He was probably on track for a $20 million-plus contract before the injury. He still might get a multiyear deal if some team seems like gambling.
50. Edward Mujica (RHP Cardinals – Age 29): This will be one of the tougher calls of the winter. Mujica’s breakthrough year had him lined up for a big payday, probably something in the neighborhood of $24 million-$30 million for three years. Unfortunately, his shoulder started bothering him in September; he tried to pitch through it but his ERA jumped from 1.73 to 2.78 and the Cardinals replaced him in the closer’s role. In the postseason, he made just two appearances, none in the World Series. Mujica had always been durable previously, and there’s nothing to suggest that there’s anything seriously wrong with his shoulder. Still, given that he was more solid than spectacular prior to last season, $20 million would seem to be a reach now.
52. Chris Perez (RHP Indians – Age 28): Figuring he’d be impossible to trade with an $8 million-$10 million arbitration award coming his way, the Indians simply released Perez on Thursday. It probably would have happened even if not for his dreadful September that took his ERA from 3.22 to 4.33, though maybe then they would have had some chance of trading him. Perez’s performance hasn’t actually taken much of a dive; he was simply never that good in the first place. He’ll probably be an adequate closer for some team next year.
62. Francisco Rodriguez (RHP Orioles, 32): 2.70 ERA, 10 Sv, 54/14 K/BB in 46.2 IP
66. Carlos Marmol (RHP Dodgers, 31): 4.41 ERA, 6 Hd, 59/40 K/BB in 49 IP
70 1/2. Jose Veras (RHP Tigers, 33): Tigers declined $3.25 mil option
104. Kevin Gregg (RHP Cubs, 35): 3.48 ERA, 33 Sv, 56/32 K/BB in 62 IP
110. Ryan Madson (RHP FA, 33): DNP – TJ surgery